Yikes, this book was hard to get through. Super-Cro Magnons Ayla and Jondalar leave their happy situation with the Mamutoi in quest of Jondalar's people, the Zelandoni, which involves traveling all across prehistoric Europe. If you don't understand what I just said, you are obviously not familiar with the series at all and should stop reading this review, since it is about book 5 in a long long series. If an epic journey across ice-age Europe sounds like an interesting novel, look elsewhere or write your own. This one is pretty terrible. Anyways, continuing with the synopsis, since Ayla and Jondalar are super, they have tamed horses, can heal all wounds with plants, and make great time. This is really wonderful since they need to cross a glacier before spring! If they don't get there in time, they might have to resort to..... staying in a comfortable cave until next winter with friends. And Jondalar Really Wants to Get Home!
Reaching the glacier is the main source of tension of the novel, coupled with the fact that people might not welcome Ayla and Jondalar with their flathead-friendly ways and their scary abilities to ride horses and tame animals. Flatheads, of course, are Neanderthals - the people who raised Ayla when she was abandoned as a child. Also, what if Ayla gets pregnant? Oh wait, of course she knows what plants to eat to avoid pregnancy. Phew! Oh no - now Jondalar thinks he is not man enough to make a baby with Ayla, but she can't tell him about her medicine because of reasons.
The problem with the book, besides contrived and stupid drama that occasionally bubbles up btw the happy couple, is that it is slow slow slow. They travel, observe animals and the landscape, they meet people, people realize how awesome Ayla is and want to adopt her and Jondalar. The flathead discrimination always dissolves before it can be an issue. Ayla and Jondalar never stay, though Ayla really wants to stop travelling. Everybody reacts the same way to A+J and they tell their story so often it is like Groundhog Day turned into a novel. Same Same Same. Un-sexy sex is had many times. The plants are described many times. Can you possibly imagine how many uses their are for cattails? Have you ever wanted to make a parfleche out of rawhide? Do you really want to read in excruciating detail how to bang flint rocks together to make tools? Perhaps you are interested in the ecological conditions necessary to create Loess Steppes? If you read the earlier books, you already know, but will get to read over and over again here.
There is one delightfully ridiculous interlude, involving a woman-ran group of prehistoric people. This group is imprisoning men, treating them terribly, and keeping women far away from the imprisoned men. Auel's prehistoric people for some reason all don't realize babies are made via the act of sex. They all believe it is due to swallowing spirits. Of course, super-Ayla is starting to put two-and-two together on this one, but no one else seems to have even thought of it. This crazy tribe decides to have an all-female society by isolating the men from the women. Thus only woman-spirits will be floating around to be swallowed, and only girl babies will be born. Of course Ayla, with a little help from Jondalar, solves all of their problems before rushing away to get to that glacier, but this is a nice divergence from the main story.
Sadly this book is a masterwork of plot structure compared to the next TWO novels in this series. I recommend readers of this series stop here and read no further. The first book is charming, but the series does not live up to the beginning.